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Commentary: Muzzled by Mammon

By TOM EHRICH
c. 2011 Religion News Service

(RNS) “Leave politics to the politicians,” an irate churchgoer said after his pastor waded into political issues.

“Don’t write about something you know nothing about,” an irate reader said when a Christian blogger ventured into political issues. Another said the same when a preacher commented on shabby corporate ethics.

Don’t imperil our not-for-profit tax status, church leaders warn their preacher who ventures too close to the line. Remember the separation of church and state, they say. Don’t drive our big givers away.

Make sense? Absolutely not.

If we left politics to the politicians, we would get what we have now: a political class that feels entitled to hold office and to skim its profits; entitled to say or do anything to win elections; entitled to favor special interests bearing gifts; and uninterested in the health of communities, states or the nation.

If we left business to business leaders, we would get what we have now: an attitude of anything goes, screw the customer, cheat to win, sell personal privacy, spin the numbers, take government largesse and give nothing back.

The glory of democracy is that one doesn’t need a political science degree to have a political opinion, or an MBA to monitor the marketplace. Not all views will be informed, but it’s amazing what a little common sense can add to a political discussion, or what a dose of godly ethics can say to the marketplace.

If anything, preachers should be working harder to explain basic ethical principles to their flocks — principles like honesty, sharing, justice and attention to persons, not to mention Jesus’ basic assertion that one cannot serve both God and wealth.

If anything, preachers should be saying more, not less, about politics. We don’t necessarily need to be backing certain candidates, but rather shining a holy light on human suffering, gross injustice, discrimination, widening income disparity, growing anger among the downwardly mobile, and the collapse of public education.

Political issues, you see, are human issues, and that means they are spiritual issues. Jesus devoted the better part of his teaching to wealth and power, and so should we. Faith doesn’t watch a shallow presidential debate in New Hampshire that’s rife with evasion, pandering and scapegoating and simply shrug it off.

These are our communities at risk here, and that means people, their freedom, their sense of well-being, their health and their rights. I can’t imagine subjects that are more deserving of Christian witness.

Rather than grouse when their church engages in political discussions, churchgoers should say thanks and join the debate. That’s when their church will be talking about life as it is, not doctrine, budgets and ordination rules. They will be seeing what God sees. For God isn’t likely to care much about who gets ordained or whether the parish parking lot gets repaved, but God cares deeply about who enjoys the dignity of work, who receives health care, who loses a home, whose family is shattered by deprivation.

Maybe some self-righteous politician will threaten a church’s not-for-profit status. So what? If some topics are ruled off-limits because the powerful don’t like them, then the church has nothing to say anyway.

And if people only give because they get a tax deduction from the IRS, the congregation needs to do some serious teaching from Deuteronomy.

Will big givers leave? Maybe. But if their devotion to wealth overrides their willingness to countenance what Jesus actually said, they need spiritual guidance, not the reins of religious power.

Will the uninformed get airtime? I hope so. The cult of the expert certainly hasn’t gotten us anywhere.

(Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of Just Wondering, Jesus and founder of the Church Wellness Project. His website is www.morningwalkmedia.com. Follow Tom on Twitter (at)tomehrich.)



  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Fred

    I do not go to church to hear what political views I should have. I see a lot of church people who read their Bible everyday, pray, attend church regularly and tithe. Great. However, when taxes need to be increased so teachers are not laid off or elderly people thrown out of nursing homes, they are rabid anti-tax? I see many Christians who believe anything the government does is evil and they do not support our government despite the fact that government does do a lot of good in the world for “the least of these”. Teach Christians about seeking justice and mercy, supportting their leaders and the government. On hot button issues, let each person decide according to their “measure of faith” not through a voter guide left by selfish conservative groups.

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